Ending the world

posted in: Tips and tricks | 0

My favorite thing about video editing is that you can truly do anything. No matter what kind of story you want to tell, it can be done. Sometimes you’ll need to employ tricks-of-the-camera or narrative suggestion to convey what you need. But sometimes, if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to show the audience exactly what you want it to see.

One of our current projects is a time-travel, end-of-the-world short. Because we wanted to try it. Anyway, the story required a dying Earth for two friends to try to escape. Not being a big-budget blockbuster house, we were unable to build elaborate sets and pyrotechnics. So, our raw footage ended up looking a bit ordinary:

visual effects, video production
Starting with the raw footage

Boring, but it turns out that’s all you need to effectively destroy the world. First, everyone knows that when the world ends, the sky will be on fire. Duh. Using a masking technique similar to the one outlined in my last blog post, I removed the sky and replaced it with one much more menacing:

video production, special effects, visual effects, editing
Replacing the sky


Better, but still not great. We needed some fire, because every good disaster needs fire. Using the stock footage available in the Action Essentials 2 pack (created by the awesome, awesome people at Video Copilot), I added some fire elements to the landscape to further emphasize the catastrophe:

visual effects, editing, video production
Setting the sky on fire


Better still, but it’s not yet quite right. You may be noticing that it doesn’t look “real.” I agree, because we’re just now getting to the most important part: color correction. Color-correction (and the associated color-grading) means adjusting the colors of your footage to achieve the look you want. For our purposes here, the footage of our actor and the field behind him still looks like it did on a regular-old cloudy day. It doesn’t match the look of the sky, and that discrepancy breaks the illusion, making it look fake. The only way to fix that problem is to make all parts of the scene look like they belong together; I needed to color-correct them. Going layer by layer and adjusting things like the white balance and the curves for each element of the shot, we could achieve a much more cohesive look. Check it out:

color correction, visual effects, editing, video production
Color correction


Voila. As you can see, color-correction is critical, and it’s a principle that applies to every project, from weddings to end-of-the-world epics. Imagine for one sad second that a cloudy sky threatens your special day. We can color-correct that footage to bring out the colors again and avoid the gray, dull look.

But I digress. To finish off this shot, I created some particles to fall from the burning sky, and added a smoke element from the Action Essentials 2 pack behind the actor to help sell the final scene:

visual effects, video production, editing
Final version


Below you can see it in motion, along with a bonus clip of another shot from the same movie:

No job is bigger than destroying the world, and I hope you’ve learned how incremental steps can achieve that goal for your audience. Stay tuned for the finished product in a couple of months.